I’m Black, and I bleed blue. I played football for Brigham Young University. I cheer for BYU, and I Iove BYU. But that doesn’t mean I think we’re perfect. We can always improve. As Christians, as a community and as a country, we all need to address racism.
After last Friday’s BYU-Duke volleyball game, Duke player Rachel Richardson wrote about her experience on social media. I retweeted Richardson’s statement in solidarity, as well as the response from BYU athletic director, Tom Holmoe, who I know personally.
Richardson has said she doesn’t believe what happened is reflective of BYU, and I can attest to that not only as a former athlete and an alum, but also as the pastor of an intentionally multiethnic church in South Carolina who returns to Provo regularly to speak about our responsibility to root out racism and confront it.
I founded Transformation Church precisely because the nightclubs that my wife and I used go to were much more diverse than Jesus’ “club” — the church. I believe that the path to racial healing begins in places of worship; I say that America is “color-blessed,” not color blind, and God wants his family to be colorful.
What Richardson describes is abhorrent, and it reminded me not only of my own experiences with racism, but others’ — and what our collective response as Christians and Americans should be.
One of my favorite movies is “42,” starring the late Chadwick Boseman. The movie chronicles Jackie Robinson’s life as the first African American to play in Major League Baseball. Robinson also heroically served his country in World War II. He helped to defeat the Nazis only to return to racism in America.
As a former National Football League player (I played for the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers), I often reflect on Robinson’s courage. The America in which Robinson lived was one of segregation, blatant systemic racism and lynching. His courage and sacrifice paved the way for African American men like me, not just in professional sports, but in life.
There was a scene in “42” that gripped my soul. During one game, the opposing team’s manager let loose with just about every hate-filled racial word he could hurl at Robinson. The manager from the opposing team eventually stopped spewing this hate. But he did not stop until one of Robinson’s white teammates left the dugout, walked across the field and confronted the manager.
There is an important lesson for all of us here: Racism and prejudice must be confronted by people of the same ethnicity.
If a white person is exhibiting racism and prejudice, it is critical that this behavior is confronted and challenged by other white people.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Martin Luther King famously wrote, “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”
At the dinner table, confront racism and prejudice. At work, at school, wherever we are, we must confront racism and prejudice. This confrontation is not done with violence or anger, but love, grace and truth.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ... so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Branch Rickey, an evangelical and the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, said this: “I couldn’t face my God much longer knowing that his Black creatures are held separate and distinct from his white creatures in the game that has given me all I own.”
Sometimes people ask me why I talk about race so much. I tell them, “Because the Bible does.” As I wrote in my book “How to Heal Our Racial Divide,” “Racial reconciliation in Christ is not peripheral to the gospel, an optional ‘nice to have’ or a fad issue, but central to Christ’s mission and God’s plan.”
People of faith, in particular, should be held to a higher standard when it comes to fighting racism and prejudice. Anyone who says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, is a liar. The First Epistle of John says, “For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Refuse to be silent. Refuse to be passive. May we live by the Rev. King’s word, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
The Rev. Dr. Derwin L. Gray is co-founder and lead pastor of Transformation Church in South Carolina and the author of “How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, about Racial Reconciliation.”